by Jen O Neill
Working for an American multinational company with technical writing colleagues on both coasts of the US and me in Belgium, you’d think I’d be watching the clock to see when they’re in the office so that we can talk.
I’m not watching the Instant Messager screen on my computer to see who’s available in the US. It’s my colleagues across Europe that I’m tracking. I often need them at short notice for information.
So which time zone matters the most to me when trying to get hold of my European colleagues during the day?
Between time zone differences and cultural differences on when to eat that exist between European countries sometimes I sometimes feel that I’ve been thinking about lunch for much of the day. If it’s X time, then A must be at lunch. And at X+1 time, B and C will be at lunch. C is at lunch at X+2 time …
From 11:00 in the morning (my time) my Finish colleagues aren’t around. It’s noon for them and they’re at lunch so no point chasing Finns then. An hour later, it’s my lunch time. So the German, French, Dutch and Italian colleagues know they won’t have me pinging them as we’re all at lunch.
By 14:00, my time, there’s no point contacting colleagues in Britain for information as it’s 1pm for them and they’re gone to lunch (except they’re not gone for long). In the past my Spanish colleagues would be off to lunch at 14:00 and often not return until near 16:00. So for a few years I was tracking a lunch time zone that could last up to five hours yet I never left Europe.
For many of us in Europe lunch is a main meal and not a grab-n-gobble sandwich at our desks. Sadly the two-hour lunch no longer (officially) exists in our European offices. When I moved to France from Britain years ago, I quickly adapted to a slow two-hour lunch with colleagues. The company canteen served a five-course meal with wine or beer. I then moved to Belgium to work for another company and lunch became an hour. Only one hour!
Working in a corporate environment can mean that local habits change. I can’t remember when the two-hour lunch disappeared in our French office but when we were bought by our current owner, they insisted that the Spanish office fall into line with the rest of the offices in Europe. They had to eat earlier and come back in an hour. They weren’t happy about that. These days I can ping Spain at 14:00 and get a reply.
My lunch time zone now at work is only around three hours.
Bon appetite! (Now if you could just get that info back to me by…and pass the salt. Thanks)